On Friday afternoon, about 150-200 Pittsburgh Pirates fans did what they do every October 13. They gathered at what remains of the Forbes Field outfield wall to celebrate another anniversary of the Pirates’ victory over the New York Yankees in game seven of the 1960 World Series. I had previously written about the annual celebration, which involves listening to the entire original radio broadcast. I have since acquired an iPhone and gotten rather dangerous with the camera. So this will be more of a photo essay. Steal any of these photos at the risk of dire consequences.
The broadcasters were Jack Quinlan, the voice of the Chicago Cubs, and Chuck Thompson, the voice of the Baltimore Orioles and Baltimore Colts. It’s the complete broadcast, commercials included. We learn Rocky Colavito had the toughest beard in baseball. There’s another commercial for a pen that can write through butter. I’m not so sure that particular feature has any practical application, unless one is asked to sign a piece of toast, but what do I know? Thompson had also broadcast the 1958 NFL Championship Game between the Colts and New York Giants. That was the first NFL game ever to go into sudden-death overtime. So Thompson was the broadcaster for what were arguably the greatest games ever played in both baseball and football.
As a member of the Game Seven Gang who puts on the annual event, I get the privilege of arriving early in the morning to help carry a ladder to the site and hang banners. I’m not complaining. I had to inform the other members our friend Tom had died since the last event. It’s been 63 years since the game and we’re losing attendees to attrition. I was glad to get some of Tom’s baseball stories and share them here before he passed.
The weather warmed and it became a sun-splashed day, perfect for baseball, although the grass around the wall was not the rich green normally seen on baseball fields. Before the broadcast, as the early arrivals settle in, it’s a good chance to stroll the grounds and check out the memorabilia that’s on display by some of the attendees.
We begin the festivities with some preliminary remarks and a remembrance of the members of the team who are no longer with us. Having recently lost Joe Christopher, there are now just six living members of the 1960 Pirates. Of those that remain, Bill Mazeroski is the youngest at age 87. At various times, former players have attended the event, but not anymore.
Around the fourth inning, I get hungry and venture across the street to Schenley Plaza, a green expanse with refreshment stands that has become a gathering place for students at the nearby University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University as well as the many hospital workers in the area. For years, I would get hot dogs from Scottie the Hot Dog Man, long an institution at the corner outside the adjacent Hillman Library. Scottie, full of humor and wisdom, made the perfect hot dog, grilled just right with the right amount of condiments. Sadly, in 2005, certain bigwigs in the city decided they didn’t want Scottie at his corner any longer. In one of those “only-in-Pittsburgh” stories, Scottie took the matter, however futile, all the way to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
On the way back, I stop inside the Forbes Quadrangle, where home plate from Forbes Field is on display under glass. There is no shortage of Pittsburgh legends about the plate. Some say it’s in the exact location where it was when the ballpark still stood. Others say the exact location is in a ladies’ restroom. Is it the home plate from the final game at Forbes Field? Or game seven of the 1960 World Series? Or another game? I’ve been told all three of these possibilities are factual by various people over the years.
In another “only-in-Pittsburgh” moment, we got the answer right away. In Pittsburgh, everybody knows a guy, and if they don’t, they know a guy who knows a guy. One of the attendees knew somebody who knew the contractor who built the Forbes Quadrangle. Two quick phone calls later, we had our answer. Home plate is in its original spot and it’s from the final game at Forbes Field.
Fast forward to the eighth inning, when I stop socializing and begin paying more attention to the game. In the bottom of the inning, backup catcher Hal Smith, in the game only because Christopher had pinch run for starting catcher Smoky Burgess earlier, blasted a three-run homer to put the Pirates ahead, 9-7. However, the Yankees would come back and tie the game in the top of the ninth.
In 1996, October 13 fell on a Steelers Sunday. We didn’t get much of a crowd that year. But one of the attendees was former Pirates pitcher and broadcaster Nelson King. He sat with us at a picnic table and commented on what went on as the game broadcast played. It was like having our own private TV analyst right there. King told us when the Yankees tied the game, he looked at Smith from up in the press box and saw Smith’s shoulders slump. Smith knew his homer would be a forgotten footnote in baseball history. (Smith would get his due at the premier screening of the newly discovered TV video in 2010, when fans hooted and applauded and demanded a curtain call after his homer. Struggling to rise, he complied.)
Yet the one I feel sorry for every year is Thompson. His call of Smith’s homer is one of the best I’ve ever heard. This, too, would be largely forgotten: “He hits a long fly ball, deep to left, I don’t know, it may go outta here! It is going, going, gone! [Pause.] Forbes Field at this moment is an outdoor insane asylum. [Pause.] We have seen and shared in one of baseball’s great moments.” Thompson’s better-known call of Mazeroski’s winning homer in the bottom of the ninth is riddled with errors. He has Art Ditmar pitching (it was Ralph Terry) and the score as 10-0 before quickly correcting it to 10-9.
At the event’s conclusion, I headed home, only to be detoured as a pro-Hasan demonstration caused several street closures. So I got a taste of what the postgame traffic jam must have been like in 1960.